Places to Stay

8 Best Villas in Sri Lanka 2023

Braganza House

Braganza House

British designer Chloe Elkerton built this ridiculously pretty villa from scratch. Set among jackfruit, king coconut and papaya trees, just inland from Talpe beach on the south coast, it’s an imaginative new take on a traditional Sri Lankan bungalow. Gone is the teak furniture and the white washed look. Instead, this new kid on the block is a carefully-curated bohemian-chic collage of Greece, Morocco and Bali inspirations, whipped up in a fresh palette of corals, pinks and greens. All the big interiors names are here, too, – Colefax, Nicky Haslam and Fermoie, irresistibly combined with locally handmade furniture (check out the beautiful bobbin four-poster beds), Dutch antiques and vibrant artwork from Insta favourite Mary Maguire.

A show-stopping Moroccan-inspired courtyard leads to the four individually-designed suites, each with their own spacious terrace – choose the Palm Suite with its shell grotto to ponder life in. But it’s the light-filled living space, with hanging rattan lanterns, which is the real wow – and a feast for the eyes: Buddhist temple fans mix with Indian inlaid chairs, hand-weaved Ghanaian hand-weaved baskets and confident seascapes. French windows lead out onto the lush lawn, which slopes down to a curvy white terrazzo swimming pool, surrounded by palms, where you can bob about, sipping fresh coconut water. Later on, settle down in the shady poolside pagoda, with countryside views, for a cocktail before tucking into just-caught juicy jumbo prawns, complemented by an array of colourful salads (Avocado the dog snoozing by your side).

When you are feeling up for an adventure, meander your way past local life to toes-in-the-sand bar, Wijaya Beach. Or hotfoot it to Turtle Beach, where you can, indeed, swim in crystal clear waters in the company of benign giant turtles, who hang about in the water completely unperturbed. Buzzy Galle Fort is also a 20-minute rickshaw ride away.

No.79 Leyn Baan Street

No.79 Leyn Baan Street

No-one has mastered the art of hospitality quite like Olivia Richli. Most recently GM of hot hotel Heckfield Place, following a 20-year stint with Aman Hotels, she’s fully wised up on what you need. And that’s all brilliantly evident at her 18th-century Dutch merchant’s house with its prime position on Leyn Baan Street in the heart of historic Galle Fort. To start with, it’s all wonderfully turquoise (Olivia’s favourite colour) as soon as you step through the Dutch antique doors with its original stained glass – the Moroccan floor tiles, retro chairs, the lampshades, the staircase… An ornamental pool, filled with silvery fish, is in the centre of the villa, surrounded by sparkly Indonesian textiles, Sri Lankan timber stag heads, tribal artwork and brass tinder boxes – all collected during Olivia’s various junkets around the world. There are shelves crammed with well-thumbed classics (do read A Suitable Boy), a cupboard brimming with board games and family wedding photos, which makes it feel all reassuringly lived in. 

There are three low-key eclectic bedrooms – choose the sleigh bed in the rooftop room with its ensuite sunken bathtub. It’s also closest to the shaded courtyard below, where charming housekeeper Kanthi rolls out a delicious fruit-filled breakfast on a long polished cement table. When you can tear yourself away, venture out onto the cobbled streets and stumble upon superb eateries (book a table at the Fort Printers), hawking shop keepers and cool boutiques (visit Barefoot on Pedlar Street). Just be back in time to watch sun set over the sea from the fabulous blue-stoned roof terrace. For a hideaway in the hills, check out Idle House, also owned by Olivia with her husband Alex (who runs the fantastic Idle Bikes – go for a poodle around the paddy fields) which is equally gorgeous to rent. 

Armitage Hill

The late Australian Kerry Hill set the architecture world alight with his progressive designs for Aman hotels. But only the clued-up know about his stunning home. A 19th-century plantation house on a former rubber estate, near Galle, Kerry spent 30 years developing the 21-acre space into a serene masterpiece of modern design. He used the house not only as a home but as a testing ground for Aman design concepts and furniture prototypes. The architect worked his magic on the property, raising the roof, adding pavilions, courtyards and ponds – everything a mesmerising shimmer of titanium and cement.

After Kerry and his wife Ruth died in 2018, their sons Jeremy and Andrew decided to rent out the villa for the first time. They left the house pretty much as it was – still filled with old Dutch chests, antique animal statues from Jaffna, large bronze urli bowls (now lily ponds), black glazed pots from India and a couple of Catholic pieces from the Portuguese era. There are five bedrooms – each a work of art thanks to Kerry’s exacting touch. Stay in the architect’s own (super sleek) bedroom and studio (the ‘Black Pavilion’) and admire the wooden temple friezes decorating the walls.

The main house veranda is the place to sit – where peacocks strut past to the sound of the Muslim call to prayer from the village to the west, mingled with the chanting from the nearby Buddhist Temple. Or float in the glorious glass-flat pool, which overlooks the Gin River meandering its way to the coast. For something more active, hop aboard a rickshaw and go shopping with Chef Duminda in Galle’s fish market (amazing). Then return and let him cook up a feast – his flambé banana is the stuff of legend. Plus, breakfasts don’t get much better than this– a never-ending run of string hoppers, curries, the works. A very special place which will leave you awe-struck.

Claughton House

There’s something hypnotic about this remarkable Bawa-designed villa on Sri Lanka southern shores. Overlooking the picturesque surf of Kudawella Bay, close to the town of Dikwella, it’s the spectacularly grand gates which give away that this five-bedroom white-washed villa is quite something. Named after the original owner’s ancestral Lancashire seat, the whole place is fittingly grand – a phenomenal pavilion-like structure, with towering teak blue columns, among a highland of palm trees.

It’s the glistening pool, balancing above the sea at the end of the highland, which is the real attraction. Carved into the cliff, with exposed rock, while away the hours lolling here – with the speedy staff whizzing you drinks throughout the day. Or wander down a jungle path through a Narnia-esque door and onto the beach, which is ideal for romantic strolls, early morning runs and fantastic seasonal surfing. In the evening, ask for a poolside BBQ where Ajit (one of the best chefs on the south coast) will cook up a lusty feast piled high with mahi-mahi kebabs – and using banana blossom from his own garden. You’ll barely go near your room – which comes with a little garden and outdoor shower – but when you do, you’ll bask in the elegance and calm of it. Children will love the twin room, which comes complete with a tennis table. And if you’re not quite ready for bed. The open sided terrace, with sofas, bean bags and cubby holes, is perfect for late-night chats.

When you’re in the mood to explore, a short tuk-tuk ride away is the horse show bay of Hiriketiya (idyllic but go in the morning before the surfers roll in) or treat yourself to lunch at uber chic Amanwella, just around the corner. 


It’s hard to rival the fascinating story of this terracotta-tile roofed villa, tucked away on legendary architect Geoffrey Bawa’s estate, Lunuganga, just inland from the beach town of Bentota. This one-of-a-kind house was designed by Bawa in 1962 for flamboyant batik designer Ena de Silva in Colombo. However, when Ena decided to sell up in 2009, the Lunuganga Trust came on board and dismantled brick-by-brick the house – which took six years – before rebuilding it at Lunuganga, 55 miles away down the coast. This took another three months, with the project finally completed in 2016. Phew. Five years later, when Teardrop Hotels took over management of Lunuganga, the house joined the party and opened its doors for rent in April 2021.

Hidden among cinnamon, mango and tamarind trees, two whopping granite millstones flank the entrance before you head through a huge bell-covered temple door into the magnificent central courtyard, with its giant matured temple tree. Keep exploring, past Ena’s colourful batik work of dragonflies, crocodiles and monkeys, and you will happen upon gleaming satin wood columns, delicate louvered panels bathing the rooms in sunlight and unexpected courtyards.

The three sweeping bedrooms are filled with antiques and deeply-patterned embroidered cushions and bedspreads. Bag Ena’s batik-lined bedroom with its king-sized platform bed and bathroom with blue and white pottery bowls embedded in the walls. While excellent feasts can be served in the expansive dining room – jump on the waiting tuk-tuk which will whizz you through the jungle to Lunuganga itself, where you can tuck into the tastiest rice and curry. It’s a destination here – and a perfect jumping off point on your way from Colombo to Galle – where you can fill your days, discovering the magical gardens (which are another level), and splash around in the estate’s spanking new swimming pool.

Skye House

Families scramble to book this hot ticket of a villa. And that’s not surprising. The playground with its pirate hut. The Italian cuisine by chef Sam – so good. The smack-bang-on-the-beach location. Plus this glossy hangout is now fresher than ever – after a two-year revamp by British interior designer Jo Eden, who founded much-loved women’s clothing shop Mimimango (now closed) in nearby Galle Fort. And the five bedrooms, with original teak furniture and French windows, are now a riot of colour – ask for the Pink Room, ablaze with fuchsia Indian block print and pink-painted bathroom. Go to sleep to the sounds of the ocean and wake up to the sensational sea view before wandering out through the French windows onto the wraparound balcony with a cup of Ceylon tea.

Every generation will love it here so, for some peace and quiet, there’s the pool suite, separate ((it’s perfect for grandparents) from the main house, with its super king size bed and subterranean bathroom plus the infinity pool on the doorstep. Children, in the meantime, can talk all night in their (very cool) room with three sets of bunk beds and overflowing amount of games. There’s a snooker table on the landing for more grown-up fun.

The breezy open-plan sitting and dining room features sink-right-into-it sofas and armchairs aplenty, with local hand-woven deep royal and azure blue textiles, upping the beachside feel. Natural light floods the space, further cooled by the white walls and painted vaulted ceilings. Children can cartwheel, let off steam and dodge the sun beds dotting the palm-fringed lawn, which leads directly onto Habaraduwa beach. One of the best beaches on the south coast, the sugary soft sand stretches for miles, where you can boogie board, swim and have hours of fun – finish with a BBQ on the beach. You might even spot nesting sea turtles during a full moon.


Housekeeper Manjula is quite possibly the most genuinely smiley person on the planet. And that’s the thing about this cossetting four-bedroom villa near Galle. It’s happy-making. Well thought-out, cosy and playful, it has a make-yourself-at-home ease – and children will fall head over heels for villa dog Bruno. Camouflaged away, down a tea plantation-lined drive, this little oasis, with white-washed columns, was dreamed up a couple of years ago by avid travellers Cecile and her husband Simon. The couple wanted a well-rounded education for their three young children: Louis, Marie and Camille. A villa on the beach was out of reach so they bought a plot inland, hired a local architect and spent two years pouring lots of love into their vision. And it was a family effort – Camille advised on the bedrooms, Marie chose the crockery and Louis, a competitive swimmer, focused on the show-stopping infinity pool, in the centre of the villa, overlooking paddy fields (you’re given a bag of rice to take home with you).

There are four ensuite bedrooms (including a lovely garden suite) which feature super comfortable canopy beds, bold graphic prints, planter’s chairs plus polished cement bathrooms. The walls are dotted with wildlife photographs. It’s simple but that’s what great – nature is given centre stage. Bunches of bananas hang from the trees over the open-air dining table, where Manjula delivers delicious local rice and curry to the sacred sounds of the local temple. While it’s easy just to languish beside the pool (where you can spot buffalos, monkeys and peacocks), take the troops to the cool Shack beach café, a short tuk-tuk ride away, for surfing and kid-friendly food. All ages can’t fail to enjoy, too, Rupert Beeley’s fascinating tour nearby of his cinnamon plantation at Top House Weligama. 

Maliga Kanda

A short drive in land from Galle, next door to a Buddhist temple, arriving here is like stumbling onto a Hollywood film set. It’s got an epic pool party kind of vibe – yet tucked away above a rainforest, with swinging monkeys as the only paparazzi. Built 15 years ago, the villa was snapped up three years ago by regular guests, Dutch couple Maurien and Maarten Wetselaar. Today – with no expense spared – they are injecting a new energy into the house on a big scale. More boutique hotel than villa, there’s a flurry of attentive staff and a mass of things to do.

The seven chalky-white ensuite bedrooms have Princess and the Pea-high canopy beds draped in milky chiffon drapery alongside teak furniture, brightened up by hand-woven rugs made from a local co-operative and tropical artworks. The master bedroom is the size of most London apartments – or go for a bedroom leading out onto the shady veranda, lined with planter’s chairs and cooled by the mountain breezes. There’s also a separate family annexe with a whopping playroom.

Voluptuous white sofas and stacks of inspiring coffee table books fill the living room. But you won’t stay inside for long. That saltwater infinity pool. Surrounded by pots of bright white Bougainvillea, poolside lunches stretch late into the afternoon – chef Shaluka spent 10 years working as a private chef in London and his Ottolenghi-style food (ask for the beetroot and feta salad) is a cut above. Walk it off with a wander to the paddy fields, a workout in the gym or dash around on the tennis court. There’s also a spa in the garden cottage plus a lovely terrace for yoga. Happiness is Maurien’s goal for villa guests and, here, it’s hard not to be.

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